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What Is Japanese Dating Culture Like?

If you’re wondering what Japanese dating culture is like, you’re not alone. Every where where in the world, western countries being no exception, there is huge focus on dating and courtship. We can’t help but get excited about the intricacies, the strategies, and not to mention the drama of dating and attraction.

If you’ve assumed that Japan, famous for uniqueness in its customs, has its own dating culture distinct from other places in the world, you’d be right. Japanese dating customs can be a bit different than in other areas of the world.

In this article we are going to break down some of the need to knows and some of the more interesting differences between the West and Japan.

What is kokuhaku in Japanese dating culture?

A common question from Japanese people to couples is “who confessed first?” Often western couples understand the question to mean “who asked who out,” which a close-but-no-cigar interpretation. What Japanese people are referring to is the unique confession culture known as kokuhaku.

Understanding kokuhaku


Kokuhaku, written as「告白」consists of the kanji meaning roughly “to tell” and “white.” It means quite literally confession or admission, in both the sense of crime and, more importantly for our purpose, love. It is the point in time when a Japanese man or woman tells the other person they like them in a “let’s be a couple” sort of way.

Here’s how it works. Japanese men or women clearly state that they are going on a date, and they go on said date. They converse and spend time together, potentially for half a day or whole day, but just as often they meet for lunch (more on this later) or dinner. Usually on the third date, the rule of three comes into play, which states that if you’ve made it to the third date it is time to confess.

Or, the whole thing could start out with a confession. The man or woman can clearly state they like the other person, and then bam, a couple is formed.

Kokuhaku is one of the dating cultural differences

People don’t often start dating by saying “I love you” in western culture. That’s a good way to get a potential romantic partner to run in the west. In Japan, though, Japanese people tend to say “I like/love you” early, sometimes along with the invitation to the first date.

After this confession, if a date is accepted or the kokuhaku is reciprocated, then couples tend to assume they are a couple. They’ve entered into an unspoken and mutual understanding neither Japanese partner would be dating anyone else. To do so from this point would be considered cheating.

It is not the same as asking someone out

“Wait wait” you’d be forgiven for thinking. “We also confess to each other. It’s called asking someone out.” On contraire, young Padawan. What we have is generally a much more complicated affair of grey interactions, often a sort of trial period of dating, that can be ambiguous until an unspecified future date. Japan, on the other hand, has a straightforward romance to it.

While it depends on where you are from and personal dating style, it is not uncommon for people in the US to date for months before making it official. That kind of dating style is rare in the more homogenous minded Japanese culture. Instead, people in Japan will not act like a couple until their status is made clear to each other.

Confusion due to media

Confusion due to media portrayal

Japanese people sometimes also assume Western couples have some form of confession culture. Part of the reason is our media. In our movies, for example, western people often have a scene where a heartfelt confession takes place. Think “Pride and Prejudice” or “Bridget Jones Diary” or “Love Actually” or any number of more recent shows and cinema of any genre.

And this dramatic, usually huge confession in the movie, starts the relationship. “I love you” someone cries, and then the audience swoons.

Since western culture movies are fairly common in Japan, a Japanese person can be forgiven for assuming we also confess to each other in a similar manner to start dating. But, as we know, confessions aren’t the way people in the west generally officiate their couple status.

What should be considered when confessing to a Japanese love interest?

Before you jump into confessing to a Japanese person, there are some things to consider.

Consider romance

The love confession is a big point of interest to couples, even more to women than men. It’ll will be both an important memory to the couple and story. While men are not exempt from being asked about their start dating story, female friends are very likely to ask other friends. Some romance to the confession helps start things right.

Find a good place

The confessions does not need to be an event. However, a well chosen, romantic spot will show that you really care and are heart felt.

So, if you are going to confess to start a serious relationship, take the Japanese girl or boy to a romantic spot. Think night view over a city, or a fashionable cafe, etc. Effort put in will pay off.

Don’t surprise confess

While confessions happen earlier than the west, just like in western countries, sudden and abrupt confessions have a higher chance of rejection. Who wants to be a couple with a complete stranger?

Japanese people tend to get to know others from social events, school, or work. They also have special events for setting people up in order to make connections, or dating apps in Japan to get things started. Consider getting to know people in real life, start chatting, and build some chemistry.

Gifts are welcome

Gifts are always welcome

While many times confessions can be simple affairs in Japan, giving a gift to your love interest is acceptable and appreciated. Flowers, chocolate, and sweets along with a letter are all common and simple gifts when confessing.

Another suggestion is to match the gift to the person. Consider the Japanese person’s likes, and also dislikes. Gift giving is very important in Japan, and Japanese women and also men appreciate gifts special to them.

Better face-to-face

Confessing your feelings to someone else can be an intimidating affair, and that won’t change in other countries. Asian cultures also experience that same nervous feeling you get, and no amount of rules can change the gumption it takes to start a romantic relationship.

While some Japanese people may opt in for text message or, as in Japanese romance dramas, letters to drop the bomb, Japanese people tend to meet face-to-face. The ability to take in body language and see one’s facial expressions is important. Don’t discount the benefits of seeing someone in person to kick off romantic relationships.

What is the difference between like and love in Japanese dating culture?

Like and love don’t inhabit the same world in the west. As far as the English language is concerned, if someone is dropping love, it’s a big deal. Outside of the suggestion to cohabitate or straight proposal, this is one of the bigger milestones in western dating culture. Once said, people tend to either use or expect to use love a lot between themselves and their romantic partner.

Japanese people feel quite a bit differently. Not only do they not really see the difference between the words in their own language, much less English, they don’t use them as often either.

Japanese people tend to understand love and like the same

First, the difference between love and like are unclear for many Japanese women and men as they seem to denote the same emotion or, practically speaking, objective. Like means you want to be with someone and have romantic interest in them. Love also means you want to be with someone and have romantic interest in them. So, a Japanese people may (and many do) ask, what’s the big deal?

A lot of this as to do with the kokuhaku culture and lack of grey discussed above. It’s not really possible, or at least rare, to declare you like someone and just be casually dating in Japan.

Japanese people verbally express love less

Japanese couples tend to express their love for each other less. That doesn’t mean they don’t express love in words. It’s an unspoken understanding that love in Japan is expressed more often in actions than verbally.

The most likely word you will hear for expression of love in Japan is “daisuki”, which is written as 「大好き」and quite literally means “big like”. This is actually the closest equivalent to how “love” is used in English. It’s more serious than just suki 「好き, which means just like.

The word in the Japanese language that is a direct translation is ai 「愛」. While hardly used, you may hear either ai or daisuki in tense love moment in dramas. In addition, young couples seem to be using the word more these days. It’s generally used in the casual form of aishiteiru when used at all.

How do you know you are on a date in Japan?

If you’ve been dating in the United States, you might have found yourself on a date without realizing it. Only after some signals and not quite fitting interaction do the misaligned intentions become clear.

While far from a normal dating experience in the west, it is definitely more common and likely to happen than in Japan.

How Japanese culture handles an invitation

It is not uncommon for Japanese men and women to hang out in groups or even together over coffee or lunch. And when they do so, if it’s not explicitly stated beforehand as a date, then it’s just as friends.

This can be a breathe of fresh air for many foreigners. Instead of stressing out about the intentions of an invite, or wondering if someone is “playing games” with you, generally it is safe to assume that if it is a date, you will know it.

Avoid the blind side

After a date has started, a sudden declaration that an invite is more than initially declared can be quite stressful and leave a bad impression. While probably a good philosophy to follow in most cases regardless of country, be up front about your intentions in Japan to leave a good impression.

What is meant by boyfriend and girlfriend in Japanese culture?

Boyfriend and girlfriend in Japanese culture

The words girlfriend and boyfriend entered the Japanese lexicon long ago. The words can create some confusion between communication of Japanese and foreigners.

Boyfriend is a word in Japanese that really can mean either friend that is a boy, or one’s partner. In order to avoid confusion, look for context. If a Japanese girl, for example, says something that seems a bit strange to you, such as “I have many boyfriends,” you might consider that they actually mean male friends.

To communicate the romantic relationship in Japanese kanojyo is used for girlfriend and kareshi for boyfriend. These words are clear, and there is no misunderstanding the meaning.

How does asking someone out work in Japan?

There is no rule for who can make the first move. Any gender can take the chance, and it is completely common for a Japanese girl to be the one to suggest the first date.

Location decision maker

Just like with asking out, it is usually the person who does the asking that also makes the plan. So if one were to be asked out by a girl, they also might be treated to a whole planned date.

Dates can be as simple as lunch or dinner, or more extravagant. Half or even whole day dates are not uncommon in Japan.

Where to go for a date in Japan

The dating scene offers a ton of options in Japan. There are more common options, like movie theaters, seasonal or holiday festivals, and theme parks.

Another popular option these days is fashionable and new cafes. People dating will often choose to take their partner to a new , interesting location that neither have been to before. Cafe’s are always arriving and leaving the scene, and some research on the latest trends is bound to uncover a good dating site.

Caution about theme parks and first dates

There is a superstition in Japan around the first date and theme parks. Known as the Disneyland curse, if your first date is to a theme park, you are bound to fail in your relationship. Or so the urban myth goes.

The superstition is likely related to the fact that taking your partner to an all day, in the sun, wait-in-line forever and crowded theme park can easily backfire. Both of you run the risk of getting bored, and since getting through the lines can take hours, both the pressures of the date and running out of things to say can hamper romance.

Lunch is okay

Some people in the west feel lunch is a no go for dates, or at least that’s so when starting to date. Compared to the night scene, the romantic air just isn’t there.

While Japanese girls and guys enjoy a good romantic night date as much as anyone else, lunch time is a common starter date. It adds to the casual, conversational, get-to-know-you vibe in the dating culture that a lot of first dates aim for.

Splitting the Bill

Splitting the bill, or going dutch, is common in Japan on dates. Women do not generally assume the man will pay for everything. This can surprise foreigners as they may be caught off guard by either an offer to pay or an expectation of paying.

For first dates, however, usually the man picks up the bill. While a woman may offer to pay, there is a mutual understanding that the man will either refuse or only accept a very small contribution towards the total bill.

What special occasions should I be aware of?

Christmas Eve

Winter is the season of love in Japan. And the most romantic day of the season has long been considered Christmas Eve.

For decades, Christmas Eve has been known as a time for lovers and couples. Japanese adults over the age of 30 almost uniformly prefer and think of it as a day for dating. Reservations are needed early, with some couples planning in November for the special day.

However, the younger generation is a little less motivated to date than their elders on this romantic day. Younger couples still largely prefer the day and night for love, but even people in their mid twenties are starting to recognize the day as one for family.

Does Japan celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Of course, you are aware of Valentine’s Day. However, you may not be aware of Valentine’s Day the way that Japanese people go about it. Specifically when it comes to chocolate and gift giving.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day where women give chocolate. A Japanese woman may be expected to prepare chocolate for both current partner, a possible romantic interest, and potentially friends and maybe even coworkers.

Giri Chocolate

Women in Japan, both at the work place as adults and in schools, may prepare a number of chocolates for acquaintances on Valentine’s Day. These gifts are known as giri chocolate, which quite literally means “obligation” chocolate. It is not uncommon to prepare them for coworkers, bosses, and both male and female acquaintances.

However, in recent years awareness has grown around the burden this can place on women. Some years ago a famous brand of chocolate took out a full page spread to condemn the practice, and companies have begun to ban giving chocolates on Valentine’s day in the office.

Friend Chocolate

Chocolate may also be prepared for friends. It is not uncommon for women to give chocolate to both female and male friends.

Sometimes men struggle with the intent of the gift. The weeks following valentine’s day can be filled with posts online by men asking for help deciphering their gift. Does it mean she’s interested? Are we just friends? Depending on the answer, the man will prepare an appropriate response for White Day.

Chocolate for lovers

Women also prepare chocolate for their boyfriends, husband, or romantic interest. If a Japanese woman is in a relationship, it is expected she’ll gift something. Usually the gift is larger or more elaborate than the one given to friends and acquaintances.

This is a time when sometimes women take a chance to let a man know how they feel. Chocolates with a letter declaration of love can be one way that relationships start.

White Day

White Day is the answer to Valentine’s Day. Where on Valentine’s the woman does the giving, in Japanese dating culture, white day reverses roles.


White day started in 1978 in Japan as a response to the disparity in the chocolate giving responsibilities. Initially called Marshmallow day, marshmallow were the preferred gift of choice.

The culture and separation of gift giving responsibilities has been picked up by many asian cultures. Countries such as Korea, Taiwan, and China have adopted the practices.

How White Day Works in Japan

On White Day, a man reciprocates the chocolates received on Valentine’s Day. This includes the obligation gifts, chocolates from friends, and of course, from their Japanese girlfriend.

Sometimes a Valentine’s day gifts are of a romantic nature. If a man shares the same interest in romantic partnership, they should reciprocate with generally even larger or more expensive gift. Returning the intent and showing interest is one way couples begin their journey in Japan.

How do people start dating in Japan?

Japanese dating apps

The dating scene has become open to online dating sites and apps. People in their 20’s and 30’s interested in dating increasingly rely on the apps to find a partner.

Japan has plenty of apps to try for dating, both of domestic and foreign origin. The Japanese apps, such as Pairs and Omiai, tend to be a more serious breed of dating app. These kind of apps focus more specifically on the marriage conscious individuals in society, with the goal to match up those ready to tie the knot.

Japanese people may look towards foreign apps for casual dates. Tinder and Bumble are two examples of popular apps that foreigners are likely to be familiar with and are popular. Because the apps are of foreign origin, there’s also a higher chance people on the apps will be open to dating foreigners than their Japanese counterparts.

Offline dating culture in japan

There are plenty of ways Japanese make a personal connection without apps. Some of the more famous are konkatsu parties and group dates known as gokon.

Konkatsu Parties

Konkatsu parties are a popular meeting method for people looking to get married. Companies, dating organizations, and sometimes even towns, may throw these get togethers in order to encourage marriage, and it is how many Japanese couples first meet.

Often up scale events thrown at hotels, they ideally consist of an equal number of men and women who will get together to mingle. If two people are interested, they exchange contact information and may begin dating. As both parties already know their intention to marry, marriage proposals may come after even a relatively small number of dates.

Gokon get togethers

Gokon is a Japanese specific culture for more casual group dating. It consists of a host person or couple who hold a dinner and drinking party for an equal number of male and female single friends. The goal is simple: To brew some romance.

The people will sit at a table, with the men and women each on a side. People will drink and talk. Sometimes the event is organized speed dating style, with people switching seats so they can speak to everyone. Sometimes people play games to further the fun and relaxed atmosphere.


The many differences, with unique events, holidays, and rules making dating in Japan a lot of fun and very interesting. While different from Western culture, being genuine and showing respect remain the two most important aspects to making a good start of both getting to know the culture and having actual dates.

It is safe to say we’ve barely scratched the surface of dating culture in Japan. There is a lot more to explore and learn, so stay tuned.

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

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